Sound advice on old houses to pour out of McCormick Place West

Old houses around here will take on a new luster March 27-29 when an estimated 50,000 rehab and restoration buffs attend City House, the third annual home-improvement fair at McCormick Place West.

Even the new location (the two previous fairs were held at Navy Pier) on the city's mid-southeast side is appropriate.

Donnelley Hall in McCormick Place West was used to print Life Magazine before the R. R. Donnelley & sons Company donated the hall to the city. The building was completely gutted and remodeled as an exhibition structure, at a cost of $18 .5 million.

City House 1981 is a weekend of exhibits, talks, and panel discussions, crafts demonstrations, and sound advice for the ailing house.

This year the city's department of housing will join as cosponsor with Chicago's Commission on Historical and Architectural Landmarks, the organization that originated the event.

As Mayor Jane Byrne said recently: "Chicago is the nation's largest metropolitan housing market, and by rehabilitating older buildings, Chicagoans are helping conserve one of our city's most valuable assets -- our existing buildings."

Even the unhandy homeowner finds happiness just browsing at the fair.

For those who are largely thumbs, the exhibits of gleaming antique brass hardware and vintage lighting fixtures offer an instant, even if expensive, way to dress up the interior of the older house. Last year, I saw a three-arm 1879 brass gaslight fixture converted to electricity at the Stanley Galleries booth for $875 and another fixture with brass orb finial and rare blue art glass shades for $1,395. Prices will likely be higher this year.

There will be exhibits of lacy Victorian millwork, leaded and beveled glass, marble fireplaces and doors snatched from the wrecker's ball, elegant hardwood floors, ornamental ironwork, tin ceilings, and stacks of old shutters, mantels, moldings, cornices, and bric-a-brac.

Cheerful chimney sweeps, manufacturers of embossed metal walls and wood stripper, and stained glass artists will be back again to add color and texture to the event.

There will be representation for Chicago's neighborhoods as well, including architecturally distinct houses such as Wicker Park, the Villa, Edison Park, Pullman, Lakeview, and Austin.

One of City House's best drawing cards is the demonstrations of old-house remedial surgery. Craftsmen will show the techniques of basic wiring, floor sanding, plumbing, carpentry, dry-wall installation, plastering, masonry, painting and wallpapering, window and window sash chain repair, insulation and weatherproofing, and exterior restorations.

Here, the old-house owner is assured of getting sound, understandable advice on problems from stripping and refinishing wood to brick cleaning, wall and ceiling insulation, and other, less-awesome repairs.

Licensed architect members of the Chicago chapter of the American Institute of Architects and the Illinois chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects will provide free consultation on rehab problems from remodeling in good taste to energy-efficient projects.

On Friday evening, March 27, Bob Vila, a contractor and host for the recent public television series, "This Old House," will be the fair's keynote speaker.

Clem Labine, the knowledgeable editor of the Old-House Journal, will moderate a panel titled "Homeowners' Lament --

During the City House weekend, other panels of architects, contractors, bankers, and city housing agencies will tackle subjects such as financing and mortgages, rehab loans, codes and zoning, structural remodeling, and the proper methods of restoring interior and exterior detailing.

City House 1981 admission is $3 ($2 with discount coupon) and free for senior citizens and children under 12. For information, get in touch with the City House office, 320 North Clark Street, Room 800, Chicago, Ill. 60610. Phone : ( 312) 744-3983.

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